How are we making our hotels more sustainable?
The Social Hub is on a journey to become as sustainable as possible to leave a lasting impression on the world and our communities.
In this article, we’ll tell you a bit more about how we’re working to make our hotels more sustainable. More specifically, we’ll look at our buildings, hotel operations, design, and how we’re engaging our community. So, what is it that we’re doing exactly?
SUSTAINABILITY AT THE SOCIAL HUB
Let’s start with our definition of sustainability. For us, sustainability is about being futureproof. We aim to build hotels for longevity, and to ensure they’re resilient and can withstand environmental, financial, and societal challenges. We do so with respect for the environment by minimising our impact on the planet. And we aim to engage our community on our journey, to educate and activate them to use their skills and knowledge for good.
It all starts with our buildings. Right from the beginning we have an opportunity to implement sustainability into the construction of our hotels.
The first decision that we have to make when we scout cities for new development opportunities is whether we’ll go for an existing building that we can refurbish, or we’ll go for a new build on vacant land. The benefit of using an existing building is that the construction, plus a basic building design and operational framework, are already in place, and you might have the opportunity to reuse products and materials. The downside of course, is that you will always be limited in some way because of the existing structure. This could impact both the business opportunity and the potential for sustainability.
A new build, on the other hand, gives you the freedom to create your perfect hotel but can be more impactful on the environment, as you have to source a lot of new natural resources for the construction.
To ensure we invest in creating sustainable buildings, we use BREEAM certification to guide our efforts. BREEAM is a sustainability assessment method that rates properties in ten categories, which include amongst others energy, health and wellbeing, water, waste and transport. Based on the output of the assessment, properties are assigned a rating ranging from ‘Pass’ (lowest) to ‘Outstanding’ (highest). In 2021, our full Dutch portfolio has received awards classified as ‘Very Good’ and ‘Excellent’ following the BREEAM-NL guidelines. You can see an in-depth breakdown of our results here.
All our new properties are certified, with the ‘Very Good’ rating being the minimum. We also research opportunities to include on-site renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, as we did for our most recent properties in Delft, the Netherlands and Bologna, Italy, and always install energy and water efficient technologies such as LED lights, faucet taps and smart room management systems using room keys to manage the light and heating.
Another water saving device we have installed in all our locations is the Amphiro shower device. With it, users receive instant feedback on their water usage when showering. Research by Innovation Lighthouse has shown that our guests positively respond to the device and the instant feedback, and that they on average reduce their water usage by 17%.
Per year, this could save us up to 3,760 litres per room and with more than 6,700 rooms across Europe, that’s quite the reduction!
Once we open our hotel, we need to make sure our operations run smoothly and sustainably. As you can imagine, with the number of products and services in a hotel, we generate a lot of (food) waste. We have therefore made waste management one of the focus points of our sustainability strategy.
In all our hotels we have recycling facilities in place and we’re slowly expanding the number of waste streams. All hotels now recycle four streams (residual, paper, glass and organic) and whenever possible we add plastic and even coffee grounds to the mix.
When it comes to our food waste, we feel it’s important to work on it from different angles. In The Social Hub Delft, for example, we’ve reduced the number of ingredients we’re working with from 700 to 350. We’re making different dishes with the same ingredients and thereby already reducing the risk of wasting unused items.
In The Social Hub Amsterdam City, we’ve installed a waste monitor from Orbisk. This monitor scans the food that we throw away to determine what we waste and when we waste it. This way, we gain insights into our own and our guests’ behaviour and act accordingly to ensure we waste less. The results of the scans supported the plans to switch from breakfast buffet to a la carte.
We also work with Too Good to Go - a company that combats food waste by matching users with business that have surplus food – to ensure that some of our perfectly edible food can still be saved at the end of the day. In FY19-20 we actually saved 820 meals.
THE SOCIAL HUB DELFT – OUR TESTING GROUND FOR THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
For our new property in Delft, we wanted to push the boundaries of sustainability and take our ambitions to the next level. We wanted to see if we could implement circular design principles and learn what it means for a hotel to be a part of the circular economy.
Before we share what we did in our hotel, let’s first look at the concept of the circular economy. What is it that we’re talking about exactly?
LINEAR VS. CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Currently, we have a linear economy where we go from a start to an end point. We take natural resources to produce a product, we use it until it’s reached its end-of-life (e.g. it’s worn, broken or you no longer want it) after which we discard it. This has led us to use more natural resources than we give back, creating an imbalance and exhausting our planet.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “a circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.”
What this means is that in a circular economy we use smart designs to make products that can last, and that can be disassembled at the end-of-life so that they can be reused or redesigned.
RETHINKING OUR HOTEL DESIGN
For our hotel, applying circular design principles meant rethinking how we build our hotels and what products and materials we put in it. With the help of experts, we picked our entire development process apart and learned about the circular alternatives.
This resulted in a circular ground floor (the ‘fit-out’). When you walk in the lobby, you’ll find exposed seams, joints and bolts for example. By not gluing our furniture elements together or painting over exposed bolts, the furniture can be disassembled, and individual elements can be replaced or reused.
We have also incorporated a lot of recycled materials, such as fabrics, eco-leather and even our very own plastic. In our restaurant you will see that the exterior of our bar is made from black and white panels. These panels were created by melting plastic bottle caps that we collected in our hotels and headquarters.
Energy-wise, we’ve made sure the hotel runs on green energy – partly generated from solar panels on the roof, partly purchased from local sources – and is completely off the gas. By not making use of fossil fuels, we’re reducing our environmental impact and working on restoring the planet’s balance.
Besides all the actions we can take to green our buildings and our operations, and to minimise our impact on the environment, we feel it’s just as important to look at how we can maximise our positive impact on our community.
Our students stay with us for 3, 6 or 10 months out of the year. We have our Collab where entrepreneurs from all walks of life work on their businesses. And we have our hotel and extended stay guests who come to enjoy the cities we’re in. That makes quite a big community and we are motivated and excited to bring them along on our sustainability journey.
Our goal is to inspire our community to change the world for good. To engage them to solve society’s challenges. We do so through a combination of events and projects focusing on raising awareness about sustainability-related topics and activating them to take action.
Throughout the year, our community can join talks, movie nights, panel discussions and workshops discussing societal challenges such as climate change, International Women’s Day, the refugee crisis or mental health. At these events, we invite an inspiring group of experts and changemakers to share stories on how they’re changing the world. And by doing so, we hope to light a spark in our community.
We also always take time to think about how we can make our own sustainability projects tangible to our community. How can we get them to see what we’re doing and to join our efforts? When you consider that so much of what we do is reliant on the behaviour of our visitors, guests and residents, you can see the importance of effective communication and transparency. We both want and need to involve them.
Looking at our waste management project, we have put a lot of effort into developing the communication materials that guide our students to separate their waste in the student kitchens. This involved breaking down the process into manageable steps and looking at each of them as if you’d never heard of waste before, using behavioural science to find the right wording and visuals, testing the materials in one location and analysing the waste itself to see if our efforts were being effective (spoiler: it is!).
THE NEXT STEP
By now, we hope you see how serious we are about sustainability. In this article we’ve shown some of the projects we’re working on to make our buildings, hotels and community more sustainable, but if you’re interested in learning more, we recommend you check out our Impact Report. In it you can read about all our sustainability projects and our plans for the future.
One theme that we’ll be working on a lot more in the coming year is our carbon footprint. We want to better understand how much we emit and how we can reduce our emissions to do our part to curb climate change. More on that in our next article.
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